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Jean M. Hungerford 


ASTIA Document Number ATI 210637 

14 April 1950 

Assigned to 

This is a working paper. It may be expanded modified, or with- 
drawn at any time. The views, conclusions, and recommendations 
expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the official views or 
policies of the United States Air Force. 




34 pp 



I. Introduction 

II. Superstition in World War II 

A. Germany 

B. Other Countries 

III. Postwar Reports of Superstition in 

the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe 

IV. Deliberate Manipulation of Superstitious 
Attitudes for Purposes' of Psycho- 
logical Warfare 

V. A Few Factors to be Considered in 
Exploiting Superstitions 




The scattered and fragmentary material available in unclassified sources 
indicates that a number of people in nearly all major societies are susceptible 
to superstitious appeals. There is a frequent assumption that receptivity 
to such appeals increases during -wartime, but no conclusive evidence to prove 
this assumption has been found. (Indeed, the fact that certain types of 
neuroses were found to decrease in incidence and severity during the past 
war casts a measure of doubt on this assumption.) It is dear, however, t) tat 
susceptibility to such non— rational appeals causes considerable trouble for 
the secret police and for other authorities in totalitarian states. This 
is shown with particular clarity by the preoccupation of the German secret 
police with chain letters during the war, and by periodic denunciations of 
non-rational behavior in the Soviet press and radio. 

The most common types of non-rational appeals which have been noted in 
the unclassified literature are as follows* 

1. Prophesies concerning future events, either optimistic or pessimistic. 

2. Belief in protective devices and acts. 

3. "Fringe" or "radical" religions, particularly those maintaining that 
the end of the world is at hand. 

4. Belief in magical phenomena, miracles, etc. 

5. Fatalistic attitudes towards one's chances of escaping harm. 

All of these appeals, in varying degrees, may produce behavior which 

runs contrary to the needs of it society at wart 

1. Indifference to rational activity, caused by the belief that non- 
rational factors are more important, that "fate" has already 
decided, etc. 



- 2 - 

2* Preoccupation with non-rational acts which are not conducive to the 
■war effort* In some cases, these non-rational acts will he of such 
a nature as to overburden the postal system, transportation systen 
(e»g* pilgrimages), or other instrumentality of government* In 
addition, the energies of internal security forces may be taken 
up with investigating and suppressing non-rational behavior* 

3* Weakening of power of approved symbols to hold allegiance* 




I* Introduction 

The purpose of this paper is to present a few examples of superstitious 
(observed both during World War II and, in the case of the Soviet Union and 
the Eastern European countries, in the postwar period), to show some of the 
techniques which have been used by wartime propagandists to exploit popula^ 
superstitions, and to suggest very briefly some of the factors which might 
be considered in any attempt to exploit superstitions for psychological 
war fare « 

Although during the recent war sporadic attempts were made by propa- 
ganda specialists to make use of the enemy* s non-rational beliefs, so far As 
we know no major or systematic attempt to exploit potentialities in this 
area was made*^ The field is thus relatively unexplored, and scraps of 
material bearing on it must be gleaned from a mass of literature published 
during and after the war* No attempt has been made in this paper to examine 
all works of possible relevance* The observations presented here are based 
on a reading of the major works on psychological warfare and of a few of t^e 
many books which deal with wartime conditions in the principal countries 
involved in World War II# With the two exceptions of a file of captured 
Nazi Security Service documents and of the weekly FCC reports on Nazi 
propaganda for 1943 and early 1944, all material in this report is based 
on open, published sources* 

Several attempts were made by “black** propagandists on both sides to 
make use of non-rational appeals during the past war# Since the fileu 
of these “black” operators were not examined in the course of prepariJig 
this memorandum, the extent of their activities cannot be described 





II* Superstition in World War II 


Both the FCC sumaaries of domestic German radio broadcasts and the 
Nazi Security Service reports on German morale make reference to the 
prevalence of several types of superstitious beliefs and practices in war- 
time Germany* Anxiety about the future, coupled with ignorance about how 
the war was going, led to the patronage of soothsayers of all sort6 who 
claimed to be able to guess the future — astrologers, fortune-tellers, 
crystal-gazers, ouija board manipulators, tea leaf readers, numerologists, 
and the like* Early in the war several different types of ohain letters 
began to circulate} some of these contained prophecies of an early armistice, 
while others purported to be good luek letters which if passed on would 
serve to placate unseen forces and preserve the welfare of the communicator 
A description of several chain letters circulating in 1942 is oontained in 
a Nazi Security Service report of May 21, 1942, a translation of which 
appears as an appendix to this paper* As the war progressed and its out- 
come grew more uncertain and foreboding, apocalyptic stories appeared* 

such story recounted that in a certain observatory a new planet had been 


sighted which was moving rapidly towards collision with the earth* 

Finally, in 1943, an increase in non-institutionalized forms of religion 

ms reported* Apparently this took the form of brooding about death and o: 

metaphysical speculations about the after life and had no connection with 


organized church groups or activities* 

FBIS, FCC, Central European Analysis, Jan. 7, 1944, A-4* 


FBI8, FCC, C e nt r a l Eu r opea n Analysis, S e pt* 24 , 11H5 , Ar*?8 v ’ ^ ' 


4-1 4-50 


In Nazi Germany several of the top Nazi elite were no less subject 

1 . 

to superstitious beliefs than were the common people* It is widely 

known that Hitler was a very superstitious man* During the period of his 

preparation for power in the twenties* he is said to have frequented 

spiritualistic circles and taken part in seances, and he claimed to have 

2 ^ . 

heard voices commanding him "bo save Germany# Rudolf Semmler reports in 


Goebbels — The Man Next to Hitler that Hitler consulted and ms greatly 

moved by a fortune-teller who told him in 1933 that he would come to power 

4 ... 

in 1933 with Hindenburg* It has even been reported — - although no verification 
has been found for this — that since he regarded ''seven* as his lucky 
number. Hitler liked to launch large-scale attacks on Sundays (e.g* Austria , 
Poland, the Low Countries , Greece, Yugoslavia, and Russia*) • 

It should be pointed out that democratic as well as totalitarian elites 
may be susceptible to superstition* Various American generals and 
admirals are noted for their stock of superstitious notions* Admiral 
Halsey is a particularly striking example t he carries innumerable 
talismans and good- luck charms, avoids traveling in the same plane 
with Admiral Nimitz (whom he feels has bad luck in the air), and 
regards the number thirteen as his jinx* In his memoirs he describes 
an incident which illustrates this last phobias 

”When we received orders for our next operation, we were appallec 
to find that not only had we been designated Task Force 13, but cur 
sortie had been set for February 13, a Fridayi Miles Browning ax 
my Intelligence Officer, Col* Julian P. Brown of the Marines, 
immediately went to CINCPAC's headquarters and asked his chief oi 
staff, Capt. Charles H* MoMorris, ’What goes on here? Have you § 
it in for us, or what? 1 

"’Sock* Morris agreed that no sane sailorman would dare buck such 
a combination of ill auspices, and changed our designation to TF 16 
and our sortie to the fourteenth.” (Halsey, William F* and Bryan J*, 
Admiral Halsey’s Story , p* 97*) 

Byehlowski, Gustav, Dictators and Disciples , pp* 153-154* 

Semmler, Rudolf, Goebbels — The Man Next to Hitler , pp* 166-168* 

”Soldiers’ Superstitions,” New York Times Magazine, April 2, 1944* 




- 6 - 

Goebbels too was superstitious# Semmler recounts an incident which 


illustrates the Propaganda Minister’s non- rational fears* 

“Goebbels is very superstitious# The more obscure the situation 
and the gloomier the future, the more this is noticeable •••• 

“At the usual time to-day I went into his room to show him some 
press telegrams# Among them was an American radio announcement 
that Hitler was ill beyond recovery and that the General Staff 
had decided to force him to retire# Goebbels passed me the shee ; 
of paper with a remark, and as I stretched out my hand to take i'; 

X brushed my sleeve against the silver-framed picture of Hitler 
which stood on the desk# It swayed, slipped and fell to the floor, 
the glass flying in all directions# For an instant there was a 
painful silenoe# Goebbels* face had gone pale# I was horrified* 
Then with a furious expression he shouted* *No bad omens from you, 
please* * •••• The whole evening Goebbels remained upset by this 
occurrence and looked thoroughly nervous 

British doctors reported Rudolf Hess' interest in the occult and his 

great confidence in horoscopes; Hess himself said that one factor in his 

decision to fly to England was that his old friend and professor Haushofer 


had seen him in three dreams piloting an airplane across the ocean# 

There is no way of measuring accurately how widely held superstitious 
beliefs were in wartime Germany nor to what extent they served to depress 
morale, produce defeatism, impair working efficiency, or otherwise lessen 
the war effort# But as the attached report on chain letters by the Securi ty 
Service indicates, (See Appendix A) Nazi authorities regarded chain letter s 
as a nuisance problem, were aware that they might weaken morale, and were 
sufficiently concerned to take steps to combat them# Similarly, they took 

measures against fortune-tellers# Count Ciano reports in his diary that 

Semmler, op# cit#, pp# 166-168# 

The Case of Rudolf Hess, edited by John R. Rees, p# 13# 




"since the Hess affair, all fortune-tellers and astrologers in Germany 

have been arrested*"* Penalties for fortune-telling first involved 

payment of a fine, and when this proved an unsuccessful deterrent, fortune' 

tellers were imprisoned* Press and radio publicity of such punishment was 

given as a warning to others* Provincial and later national press article 

and domestic radio broadcasts sought to dispel superstitious notions eithe: 

through ridicule or rational arguments* Gne such article appeared in the 


October 25, 1943 issue of Per Mittag : 

"German victory must come before German peace* This is our un- 
shakeable determination* But the day of victory can not be 
discovered from tea leaves, stars, through horoscopes, slide 
rules, or tricks with numbers* Yet, there are people who have 
been doing so recently* They juggle the chronology of the 
Mddle Ages or take at random various dates regarding the ages o: 
army leaders, politicians of past centuries, and our Fuehrer* s 
age* The main thing for them is that the result points to peace 
in the near or distant future* Another sort of clairvoyant deali 
with nature* Some municipal zoo has a female elephant which gav 
birth to a baby in 1871 and again in 1918, it is therefore callei 
the * Peace Elephant* * It is quite natural that this elephant wi 
soon have a baby again* To complete the story it is said that 
this elephant basks in the sun under a * peace palm tree* which 
always blooms in the year before a peace* Others spread copies 
of soxae documents which have even *been released by the Fuehrer* 
and were written in the 17th century by monk who predicted the 
great struggle between East and West***He said that the decision 
of the war would fall between four towns or four ruins; the vict< 
would kneel between two limetrees, announcing the victory to hiB 
people* This and similar stuff, if it is copied seven times and 
sent out to others who do the same thing, is supposed to bring 
luck to the write r*” 


Similar examples of superstition have been reported in other countries 
at war, both democratic and totalitarian* 

^ The Ciano Diaries , edited by Hugh Gibson, p» 370* 


FBIS, FCC, Central European Analysis, November 5, 1943, B-10-11* 



- 8 - 

In London* although newspapers were sharply reduced in size* the numbsr 

of astrological advertisements increased** It was reported that fortune- 


telling and astrology enjoyed new popularity in the United States® 

Foreign correspondents stationed in the Soviet Union report occasional instances 

of superstition among peasants and the more ignorant groups in the Russian 

population® Robert Magidoff, for example, describes a conversation he had 

with an uneducated cook whom he had promised to employ when the war was 

over® She came to him in September, 1944 to ask him to hire her because, 

she said, the war was almost over* When Magidoff asked her what made her 

think so, she pointed out that there were no mushrooms that year and that 


almost all the newborn babies were girls* In Moscow, in the summer of 

1941, an acquaintance of Alexander Werth told him that the peasants were 

predicting that Hitler would die on August 5 and that the war would end 

August 12® 

It has been widely observed that in combat soldiers tend to adopt 
superstitious practices and fetishes which they believe will protect 
them from harm® Japanese troops, for example, wore good-luck sennin-bari , 
or belts-with-a-thousand-stitches; these were belts which Japanese 


women had passed from hand to hand, each woman in turn adding a stitch® 

Kris, Ernst and Speier, Han3, German Radio Propaganda , p® 103® 

Zolotow, Maurice, "The Soothsayer Comes Back, 1 * Saturday Evening Post, 
April 17, 1943. 

Magidoff, Robert, In Anger and Pity , pp® 114-115® 

Werth, Alexander, Moscow War Diary , p® 129® 

w Good Luck Belts,” New York Times Magazine, January 11, 1942® 


A foreign correspondent describes superstitions among Russian troops s 

“In some (troops ), war strengthened their belief in the Church* 
Others acquired curious fetishes and superstitions® They believed 
they would not die — if such-and-such did not happen* They woi Id 
be safe if they did not look backward in battle* They would be 
safe if they did not think of death* They would be safe if their 
wives or sweethearts did not lose faith in them* This last 
belief was widespread in the Red Army* In letter after letter 
Red Army boys wrote back to their sweethearts and wives: 'So 

long as you are faithful to me, I will not be killed* 

U*S* air combat crews considered it unlucky to make their beds before 


going on a mission but lucky to shave* Among the top brass. General 

Eisenhower carried a 5-guinea gold piece for good luck, and General Kenney 


carried a pair of dice which had been blessed by a priest in World War I; 


Admiral Halsey's superstitions have been noted above* The American Soldie r 
observes that many U.S. soldiers carried protective amulets or cherished 
articles of clothing which they had worn in previous dangerous battles, 
or made pre-battle preparations in a ritualistic fashion* Others 
fatalistically assumed that they would not be killed until their number was 
up or that they would only be killed when a shell had their number on it* 
There is no statistical evidence to show how many soldiers accepted magical 
and fatalistic practices, but there are indications that even those men wfco 
did not really think that these superstitious practices had any efficacy 
adopted them and felt that they derived some measure of confidence from them<> 

Salisbury, Harrison, Russia On the Way , p* 286* 

“Soldiers' Superstitions,*’ New York Times Magazines, April 2, 1944. 

The American Soldier, edited by Samuel A* Stouffer et al, Vol* II, 
pp* l88-191o ' 




- 10 - 

Magic and fatalism, apparently fulfilled much the same function as prayer 

and to some extent represented alternative techniques for dealing with the 

problem of anxiety* Sometimes, however, soldiers adopted all three 

techniques concurrently on the theory that it did no harm to try anything* 

III* Postwar reports of superstition in the Soviet Union and Eastern Euro 

Prom occasional references in the Soviet press and in the comments of 

foreign visitors recently returned from the Soviet Union it is apparent 

that thirty years* struggle against the *vestiges of decadent bourgeois 

culture* has not been entirely successful in stamping out * reactionary* 

superstitions, especially among peasants and unskilled laborers* One 

correspondent reports that when he threw a bread crust in the wastebasket, 

his maid reproved him, saying that not only was it sinful but that it woul 

bring down dark spirits upon him**" Another recent visitor reports that 

among the few topics which it is still "safe* for foreigners to discuss 

with Russians are fortune-telling and superstitions, and she reports: 

8 (In Moscow) you can get your fortune told by cards, by tea 
leaves, by water reflection, by black rats, by birds, by 
psychic manifestations* Within two kilometers of Moscow there 
is a woman who guarantees to influence your lover — by means 
of his photograph w- so that he will never look at another woman 
but you*** 

*PeopX© understand that if you drop a fork a woman is coming to 
call, but if you drop a knife it will be a man* You have only 
to tell a sympathetic listener what you dreamed last night to 
have the dream interpreted for good or ill* If you break a 
mirror — well, you know what* Russians love ghost stories 
and grisly supernatural tales and have a good store of them 
which they will relate with relish and enthusiasm** 

Moo rad, George, Behind the Iron Curtain, p* 149* 

Atkinson, Oriana, Over At Uncle Joe»s, p» 310* 



- 11 - 

Superstitious practices are widely enough accepted and indulged in 
to call forth an occasional article of reproof in the Soviet press* Earljj- 
in 1945, for example, Komsoraolskaya Pravda , a newspaper for Soviet young 
people, published an article entitled “The Strange Case of Motia-Madeleine 
which satirized a Soviet girl for aping Western ways in her dress and conduct* 
Among the foolish attitudes for which she was ridiculed were her acceptance of 

Western superstitions — in particular, the belief that she could talk to 

1 2 
the dead* Late in 1949 another Soviet periodical remarked* 

“It is still possible, sometimes, to find children in Soviet 
schools who suppose that the way to paBS an exam is not by 
diligence and systematic work, or conscientious and profound 
knowledge of a subjeot, but by all sorts of magic actions like 
putting on 'a lucky suit,* tying knots in one^ handkerchief, 
and other similar aots***“ 

Despite official discouragement of "fringe’* religious groups, the disruptive 

behavior of one such sect was serious enough to provoke a recent article in 


Lite rat ur naya Gageta, According to this account, a religious fanatic 
in a rural district persuaded a group of collective farmers that on a 
certain day they would be able to leave the earth and ascend to heaven* 

At the appointed hour the farmers and their families left their work and 
fathered together to await the ascension, but the ascension did not 
materialize although the group waited patiently for two weeks* Meanwhile 
the crops were not sowed and the children did not attend school* The article 
concludes by berating local agitators and propagandists for not countering 
"this raving propaganda" with "educational scientific-political propaganda < 



Moorad, George, op* oit» , pp* 54-58* 

Oleshchuk, F* "Religion — A Reactionary Ideology," Uchitelskaya Gaajeta, 
November 26, 1949, in Current Digest of the Soviet Press, December 27} 

J gego-ro i Vj- Ivan, ^Kitay e vskoy e - - Fakir s- ;" _ 

1949, in Current Digest of the Soviet Press, November 8, 1949* 


3 * 



- 12 - 

Similarly, there are occasional references to superstition in the 

Peoples’ Democracies. About a year ago a curious rumor was reported from 

Rumania.^ A woman was reported to have said to a mysterious old man, 

"Don’t be an ass." He replied, "Who says so, is* and vanished* Since 

then, the story runs, the ■woman has had a donkey’s head. 


A few days ago, according to a New Yorker item* 

"the government of Czechoslovakia decreed, the Associated Press 
says, that all palmists, fortune-tellers, and ’other specialists 
in the occult* must suspend operations in that country at once* 
on the ground that they are ’medieval remains of the capitalist 

Recently a series of religious "miracles" has been reported from Czecho- 

slovakian villages 0 In one instance the cross on the alter of a parish 
church was reported to have bowed right and left and finally, symbolically, 
to the West; the "miracle" so impressed the Czechs that pilgrims began to 
converge on the village from miles around until Communist officials closed 
the church and turned the pilgrims away from approaching roads. In smother 
instance, the Virgin Mary was said to have appeared in a vision and to have 
struck unconscious a local Commnnisto Finally, a report from Western 
Bohemia even stated that the Virgin Mary had been seen waving an American 
flag and followed by American tanks and troops. 

The number of broadcasts from Moscow and Czech radios which have 
appeared since the reported "miracles" would indicate that the Communists 

Washington News , January 24, 1949. 

"Talk of the Town," The New Yorker, February 4, 1950. 
New York Times , February 9, 1950. 




were considerably annoyed at the interest they provoked* According to 
the Foreign Broadcast Information Service’s daily reports of Soviet and 
Eastern European radio broadcasts, there were nine broadcasts concerning 
the "miracles" between February 28 and March 19, seven from Czech trans- 
mitters and two from Moscow (including a review of a Hew Times article on 
the subject)* The "miracle of the cross" has been denounced as "an 
outrageous swindle" engineered by the parish priest "with the aid of a 
steel wire, a coil spring, and rubber bands"; the "fraud" was inspired 
by the Vatican as part of its plot to undermine the new regime. It was 
explained to newspapermen at a press conference, and on March 10 all 
Czech motion picture houses were instructed to show a newsreel of it* A 
Prague Sunday newspaper featured a story with pictures to show how the 
trick was performed* 

As for the report of the Virgin Mary’s appearance waving the American 


flag , a Prague broadoast to Europe says s 

"It is obvious at first sight that this apparition bears the 
mark ’made in the United States,’ These despicable machinations 
only help to unmask the high clergy as executors of the plans of 
the imperialist warmongers communicated to them by the Vatican 
through its agents*" 

IV* Deliberate manipulation of superstitious attitudes for purposes of 
psychological warfare 

From the days of Xerxes, who told the Greeks that when the Persians 


shot off their arrows they shut out the light of the sun, military 
strategists and propagandists have tried to capitalize on the superstitioui 
foibles of the enemy* In an ancient Chinese military campaign one 

1 FBIS, March 14, 1950, GG9, 

2 Margolin, Leo J., Paper Bullets, p* 20* 




commander tried to destroy his opponent's forces with an army that includejd 

large detachments of sorcerers •’*’ In more recent times the British, hy 

exploiting local superstitions, achieved some military successes during thle 

1920's: when British plane-mounted loud speakers told tribesmen along the 

Northwest Frontier that God was angry with them for breaking the peace, 

the tribes scattered; the Russians who were attacking religion in their 

propaganda were reportedly considerably irritated at what struck them as aja 


improper form of warfare* 

During World War II both sides made occasional attempts to exploit 

the natural wartime interest in the supernatural* In the course of the 

1940 campaign on the Western front, the Germans sent persons who masqueradjed 

as astrologers into France ahead of the advancing armies with instructions 

to try to depress French morale by spreading dire predictions among French 


women about the fate of their husbands* They also used magic lanterns 


to project images on the face of drifting clouds* In the United States, 
the FBI was said to have kept a file of wartime astrologers and fortune- 
tellers suspected of being Axis agents, and a few fifth columnists of this) 


nature were arrested* 






Linebarger, Paul M*A*, Psychological Warfare , pp* 6-7* 

Ibid*, p® 37® 

Braden, Charles S«, "Why Are the Cults Growing," Christian Century , 
January 12, 1944* 

German Psychological Kferfare , edited by Ladislas Farago, p* 41* 
Zolotow, Maurice, op* cit * 

As the following 1942 entries in his diary indicate, Goebbels ms 

well aware that there were propaganda potentialities inherent in the 

popular wartime interest in astrology and fortune-tellings* 

"March 16* The enemy is now making use of horoscopes in the 
form of handbills dropped from plan@6, in which a terrible 
future is prophesied for the German people* But we know some- 
thing about this our selves! I am having counter-horos copes 
worked up which we are going to distribute, especially in the 
occupied areas*" 

"April 28* In the United States astrologists are at work to 
prophesy an early end for the Fuehrer* We know that type of 
work as we have often done it ourselves* We 3hall take up our 
astrological propaganda again as soon as possible* I expect 
quite a little of it, especially in the United States and 
England • " 

"May 19* Beradt handed in a plan for occultist propaganda to 
be carried on by us* We are really getting somewhere* The 
Americans and English fall easily for that type of propaganda 
We are therefore pressing into our service all star witnesses 
for occult prophecy* Nostradamus must once again submit to 
being quoted*" 


But Goebbels* astrological propaganda was not designed exclusively 
for the enemy; he also saw the possibilities of spreading occult 

propheoies domestically to bolster the morale of the German people* 


Semmler describes a device used by Goebbels in the spring of 1944* 

"A new propaganda trick has been thought of by Goebbels* He 
has noticed that in times of danger and distress people become 
much more prone to superstition or occult practices — he is 
so himself — and will seek the advice of card- readers or other 
fortune-tellers » 

"A month ago there appeared in a Norwegian paper, at Goebbels’ 
instigation: ’The Revelations of the Swedish fortune-teller, 

Gruenberg** These give a forecast of the future course of the 
war* They are fantastic and crazy but he foretells, after a 

The Goebbels Diaries, 1942—1943, edited by Louis P* Lochner, pp* 126, 
193, 220. 

Semmler, Rudolf, op* cit *, pp* 123-124* 


period of much bitterness and disappointment, a victory for 
Germany* After many defeats, 1948 will be Hitler*s greatest 
year* All this is embroidered with details, as these things 
always are* The final conclusion is that Germany and the 
Western Powers will fight together against Bolshevism, with 
Hitler hailed as the saviour of Europe* 

"Soon after the Norwegian paper had published these sensational 
forecasts, a typewritten leaflet began to turn up in a ntanber of 
German cities, giving extracts from the article* It was passed 
from hand to hand and one can imagine even sober, serious men, 
talking worriedly about the war, pulling out of their breast-* 
pockets the comforting prophecies of Gruenberg, showing it to 
one another, and persuading one another once again that every- 
thing will turn out all right*” 

The Allies too put out propaganda designed to produce defeatism 
among superstitious peoples* According to the passages from Goebbels* 
diaries quoted above, they dropped leaflet horoscopes in occupied countries 
predicting a German defeat* In the Far East a black radio program, known 
as Operation Hermit and beamed by OSS to Nanking, used astrology, phrenolc gy, 


fortune-telling, etc* to analyze puppet rulers in East Asia to predict th#ir 
downfall and the collapse of the Japanese Co-Prosperity Sphere* With what 

looked like real clairvoyance, the program even predicted a great disaster 


for the first week in August, 1945* During the Italian campaign 

British Army magicians used their talents to conjure up devices to scare 

Italian peasants; one such device is described by Captain Masks lyne in 

Magic Top Secret s 

"Our men® * .were able to use illusions of an amusing nature in 
the Italian mountains, especially when operating in small groups i 
as advance patrols scouting out the way for our general moves 
forward* In one area, in particular, they used a device which 
was little more than a gigantic scarecrow, about twelve feet 
high, and able to stagger forward under its own power and emit 
frightful flashes and bangs* This thing soared several Italian 
Sicilian villages appearing in the dawn thumping its deafening 

MacDonald, Elizabeth, Undercover Girl, pp* 200-201* 


4 - 14 - 50 ' 


■way down their streets with great electric blue sparks jumping 
from it; and the inhabitants, who were mostly illiterate peasantjs 
simply took to their heels for the next village, swearing that 
the Devil was inarching ahead of the invading English# 

"Like all tales spread among uneducated folk (and helped, no 
doubt, by our agents), this story assumed almost unmanageable 
proportions# Villages on the route of our advance began to 
refuse sullenly to help the retreating Germans , and to take 
sabotage against them; and then, instead of waiting for our 
troops to arrive with food and congratulations of their help, 
the poor people fled, thus congesting the roads along which 
German motorized transport was struggling to retire# The 
German tankmen sometimes cut through the refugees and this 
inflamed feeling still more, and what began almost as a joke 
was soon a sharp weapon in our hands which punished the Germans 
severely, if indirectly, for several critical weeks#" 

V# A few factors to be considered in exploiting superstitions 

On the basis of war and postwar evidence it seems evident that in 

both the Soviet Union and the Peoples* Democracies superstitions exist 

which could be exploited in the event of a possible future conflict with tjhese 

countries# How widespread these tendencies are is unknown and is a mbot 

question; it would undoubtedly be possible to find some evidences of 

superstition in any country in the world, and the mere fact that there are| 

occasional references to this type of behavior in the books of Western 

observers of the Soviet scene should not be taken to mean that superstiticjn 

is necessarily widespread# But the fact that the Soviet press, one of 

whose principal functions is to point out the shortcomings of Soviet society, 

has commented in national newspapers and periodicals on the phenomenon car 

be taken to mean that Soviet leaders are aware that the problem does exist 

Since it is doubtful that the "Soviet man" is motivated by psychological 

mechanisms that are fundamentally different from those which animate his 

Western counterpart, it can be reasoned — although conclusive evidence tci 




support this point has not been found in the material examined — that 
wartime will aggravate superstitious tendencies* It seems likely that 
superstitions flourish in an atmosphere of tension and insecurity and thaij when 
daily experiences fail to provide sufficient reassurance and freedom from 
anxiety, when in fact factors making for anxiety and insecurity are multiplied, 
as they are in time of war, an atmosphere exists which is conducive to the 
acceptance of superstitions* 

In wartime, the average person feels himself at the mercy of fate; 
whether he and those he loves are killed or wounded seems a matter of 
chance* Yet perhaps these forces are not entirely blind or beyond control; 
perhaps they can be placated if only he carries a good-luck charm or makes 
six copies of a chain letter and passes it on* At any rate it can do no 
harm to try* 

Furthermore, in wartime the individuals insecurity is increased 
because, since military security imposes at least a partial blackout of 
news, he feels he does not know what is going on at a time when what happens 
outside his immediate locality is of vital importance to him* This is 
probably especially true in a totalitarian country where individuals have 
long been accustomed to a government- controlled press and radio which giv^ 
out only as much information as they choose and which choose to leave out 
great de^l and to treat the news which is presented with something less 
than complete frankness and objectivity* Most of all, the individual — 
whether he lives in a democratic or in a totalitarian state — wants to 
know not only what is happening today but what will happen tomorrow. So 
he turns to the crystal-gazers and the fortune-tellers and the astrologerd 



— 19 — 

who claim they can lift the veil from the future# 

Finally, many a superstitious belief is the product of wishful 
thinking and is accepted because it represents something the individual 
would like to believe# Since most people hate war and long not only for 
victory but for peace, prophecies of an early armistice or of new measured 
to end the war speedily, even if based on nothing but rumor and superstition, 
find a receptive audience# On the other hand, the anxious individual is 
not necessarily receptive only to those prophecies which are in acoord wihh 
his wishes} he may also accept those which confirm his worst fears# Thus 
dire prophecies of serious reverses or of cataclysmic destruction of the 
world also are accepted, often by the same individual who accepts optimistic 

Presumably the better-educated and more intelligent groups in the 
U#S#S*R* and Eastern Europe will be less susceptible to superstition than 
the more ignorant groups o Undoubtedly there is some correlation between 
the type and amount of education a man has received and his readiness to 
accept such a non-rational idea as that passing on a chain letter can sav«> 
him from harm, but the correlation may not be as dose as is popularly 
assumed# The fact that superstition was as prevalent as it was in World 
War II in the supposedly more enlightened and scientific era of the 
twentieth century is evidence that the rejection of superstition does not 
necessarily follow enlightenment# Even men who under normal circumstance! 
would scoff at the idea that there was any magical potency in a chain let^r 
may in wartime rationalize to the extent of sayings "I don»t really 
believe in this, but at least it doe3 no harm to try it# tt 


4- 14-50 

- 20 - 

0n the other hand, the more intelligent and better educated groups 
in the population "will probably be less likely to fall prey to the more 
obvious and blatant forms of superstition* Given the same degree of 
insecurity, the better-educated man may be more likely to seek relief 
from his anxieties in other ways* Or he may be vailing to accept a harmless 
superstition like carrying a gold coin for good luck while he draws the line 
at going so far as to consult and accept the prophecies of a ouija board 
manipulator* In view of the emphasis which Soviet leaders have placed on 
materialistic explanations of the lavra of the universe, it is unlikely tlu.t 
the Soviet elite are as addicted to superstition as the Nazi elite were, 
but the sub-elites may not have been equally successful in ridding them- 
selves of such bourgeois notions. Attempts to manipulate popular beliefs 
in superstition will probably be most successful, however, if directed 
against peasants, old people, and the more ignorant workers in Russia 
and her satellites* 

There would seem to be two major directions which attempts to exploit 
popular superstitious ideas might take* The first would involve using 
fortune-telling, astrology, and any of the occult techniques for guessing 
the future to predict dire events likely to befall the enemy. It should 
be relatively easy to devise general prophecies of eventual disaster, but 
although vague prophecies might produce a general state of depression amorg 
those who accepted them, more decisive results might be obtained by somewtat 
more specific predictions coupled with instructions of what to do to avoic 
the predicted disaster* 

The second common type of superstition which might be exploited is 
the popular acceptance of devices and practices calculated to ward off haim. 


Chain letters instructing the recipient to make several copies of the 
letter and pass them on to friends would fall into this category* Such 
letters may pose nuisance problems for the enemy governments in that they 
consume time that could more profitably be spent on war tasks* If widely 
disseminated, they may overburden the postal system* Instructions on 
what to do to appease fortune should be devised with emphasis on acts 
which will oauBe greatest annoyance to the enemy government* 

If an attempt is made to exploit superstitions for purposes of 
psychological warfare, it will be necessary to explore a number of problei 
not investigated in this paper* The questions listed below are merely 
suggestive of the various types of problems which should be considered* 
Answers to some of them may be found in the literature regarding World Wai 
II n black M propaganda operations* 

1* What types of superstious appeals will be best adapted to the 
various audiences to be propagandized? What superstitions are peculiar to 
Eastern Europeans, to Russians, to the various nationalities of the Soviet 
Union? What superstitions are most prevalent among peasants, among 
combat troops or airmen, among civilians? What evidence is there that 
given members of the enemy elite are addicted to certain types of super- 
stitions? In addition to biographical and other material regarding group 1 i 
and individuals in the eneny country, a study of local superstitions as 
reflected in popular folk lore might be profitable in providing answers to 
these questions* 

£* What timing factors should be considered in attempts to exploit 

superstitions? Will superstitions find greater acceptance after the enoi 


has stiff ered reverses or deprivations — e,g<* after an air raid or after 
a reduction in rations or an increase in the length of the prescribed 
•working week? "What types of superstition are likely to be acceptable in 
the early part of a war as contrasted to later years? As war progresses, 
is there an increase in fatalistic attitudes and a corresponding decrease in 
the belief in the efficacy of magical devices? What evidence is there that 
some types of superstitions lose their credibility after enjoying a brief 

3* What results have previous psychological warfare operations in 
this field obtained, and what specific effects should this type of noa- 
rational appeal attempt to achieve? What types of nuisance behavior would 
be most annoying to the enemy government or most likely to impair the war 
effort? What types of nuisance behavior are possible for the individual 
in a totalitarian country in wartime? 

4* What are the best methods for communicating non-rational appeals to 
the intended audience? What audiences can be reached by leaflets or radic 
broadcasts? What are the relative advantages of disseminating this type cf 
appeal through word-of-mouth rumors introduced by agents? What are the 
potentialities for word-of-mouth communication within the enemy country? 

5» What special limitations are attempts to exploit superstition subject 
to? To what extent can enemy counter-propaganda offset the effect of our 
propaganda, e.g* by offering the domestic population reassuring prophecies 
to combat the effect of dire predictions? What may be the boomerang effects 

of attempts to exploit popular folk lore? Finally, to what extent 
will the police controls in a totalitarian country make it difficult or 
impossible for the individual to engage in the nuisance behavior suggested 
by our propaganda even if he should wish to do so? 

One illustration of the fact that such attempts can boomerang is 
afforded in the recent exchange of Russian folk tales by Messrs* 
McNeil and Vyshinsky* At a UN meeting, McNeil recounted a Russian 
folk tale about a serpent to whom he compared. Vyshinsky* Vyshinsky 
neatly parried with another tale entitled H The Serpent and the 
Slanderer* 1 * According to this story, when the slanderer and the 
serpent were vying for first place as the mo&b loathsome creature 
in Hell, top honors went to the slanderer* 


Under the Nazi regime in Germany, Section III of the Office of 
the Chief of the Security Police and the Security Service issued periodic 
reports describing for the benefit of higher authorities what the German 
people were thinking and doing in the course of their daily life* These 
documents deal, for example, with the reaction of the population to various 
radio broadcasts and articles in the press, with rumors, with difficulties 
which the man in the street had in dealing with his food ration office, 
and with the prevalence of various types of crimes and misdemeanors* 

Entitled ”Meldungen aus dem Reich lt (the title was later changed to "Berich" .e 
zu Inlandsf ragen”) , the reports were classified ^Secret”. How the materia, 
was gathered i3 not specified in the issues which have been examined, but 
it is clear that lower echelons of the police and security service had 
informants sprinkled throughout the population and in addition made use of 
various types of police files* Periodic summaries from these lower echelons 
were sent to Berlin arxl an over-all report was prepared there in the Prinz 
Albrecht Strasse police headquarters* 

The issue of Meldungen aus dem Reich for May 21, 1942, contains a 
rather full treatment of the problem of chain letters which, since information 
on this subject is comparatively scarce, has been translated in full below! 

Resurgence of the Chain Letter Problem 

A few months after the start of the war, strange letters appeared in 
various parts of the Reich proper* These had a partially religious, partial 
religious-political content and were widely distributed — especially in the 
country districts — because of their prophesies about the progress and 
outcome of the war or because they were regarded as good-luck letters whicli 
would preserve the safety of their possessors. 


These letters soon came to the attention of thousands of persons, 

| both because of the prescribed method of transmission (each recipient was j 
[told to make three to four copies), and because people were told that any- 
| one who breaks this n lucky chain” will be pursued by misfortune and will 
not find n salvation* w ! 

| In the months from April to June, 1940, the transmission of these 
| messages reached such an extent that the press, film, and radio had to 
[expressly point out the foolishness of the chain letter nuisance* As a 
j result, the number of such letters visibly decreased, and almost disappeared 
(in the year 1941* In February of this year (1942), however, a new wave of 

chain letters began, which - as can be ascertained from the available 
reports - threatens to assume far larger proportions in all parts of the 
Reich, and in fact has already surpassed the levels of the previous years. 
(Ed* note: there follows a list of 22 cities from which reports were 

received by police headquarters.) 

In the most cases these letters consist of the so-called Greeting 
from Lourdes”, which has achieved the greatest circulation not only beeause 
of its brevity, but also because of the ”plea for an armistice” which it 

This letter, which allegedly started its rounds on November 1, 1942, 
in Lourdes, begins with the words: ”A mother passes it on, so that an 
armistice will come”. Then the usual demand follows that the letter be 
copied and sent on to four persons ”to whom one wishes good luck.” The 
letter ends with the words: "But you may not stop the letter, for if you 

do you will have no more happiness. These words will be fulfilled. Pray 
three Ave Marias, and within 177 hours you will experience unexpected good 

A similar chain letter, perhaps started as the ”G resting from Lourdes* 
and was altered as a joke, is circulated especially by young women and 
girls, because it allegedly originated with young soldiers! An extract 
from it is as follows: 

Somebody sent it to me and I am sending it to you. Copy 
it three times and send the text to four people to whom 
you wish good fortune. The lucky chain began with two 
young soldiers. The lucky chain must make its way around 
the world. Persons who break the chain will never be 
happy. ... The lucky chain began on November 3* 1939* A 
group of young soldiers, who deserve good fortune! You 
keep nothing I 

Again and again the so-called ”Testament of a fleeing monk from the 
17th Century” appears, and in spite of its long— winded expressions is 
frequently copied off, probably because of the prophesies in the text 
about the progress and outcome of the war. Its circulation continues, 
in spite of the fact that the Archive of the City of Wismar, which 
according to the ”Testament” possesses the original document, has attempted 
to point out the false statements in the letter. Because of the numerous 
questions which it has received, Wismar has already made arrangements to 
provide the requested information on printed postcards, which read as 
follows : 

The so-ealled testament of a fleeing clergyman is in all 
respects a complete invention. A document with such contents 
has neither been found here nor is it preserved in the City 
Hall. We request you to assist us in suppressing this 

The same motives may have contributed toward assisting in the 
distribution of another forgery for the superstitious, the alleged 
"Vision of the Countess Pillante, Princess of Savoy* 1 * This one ends 
with the words: 

But the peoples who have raised themselves against 
Christ will perish in flames. Starvation will destroy those 
who remain, so that Europe will become empty* Then the sons 
of the holy Francis and Dominick will go through the world 
and lead those who remain to Christ. But the bent cross 
will be branded on the foreheads of the criminals* 

A "Letter from Heaven" is also very widely distributed, and has 
achieved as great circulation among the Volk Germans and the transferred 
German populations as in the Old Reich* It owes its popularity primarily 
to it 3 use as a "lucky piece"* After being told to cease working on 
Sunday and to go regularly to church, the recipient is also threatened - 
as in all other cases - with eternal damnation: 

Whosoever does not believe this letter shall not achieve 
eternal salvation* But whosoever carries it with him and 
gives it to others to read or to copy, his sins shall be 
forgiven even though they are as numerous as the stars in 
the heavens and the sands of the sea* But he who does not 
heed this letter and does not pass it on to be read or 
copied, he shall be damned. 

The letter promises further all kinds of miraculous effects. Whoever 
carries it with him will "suffer no harm from a gun loaded by anyone", 
and will be protected from all other bodily hara* As proof it is stated 
that a "Count Felix of Flanders, who wanted to behead a knight for his 
misdeeds was able neither to wound nor to behead the knight". It 
developed that the latter carried with him the Letter from Heaven with 
the mysterious characters, and the Count then immediately copied it for 
himself. The letter is supposed to have been found in Jesus* grave and 
was also at one time in the possession of the Kaiser Karl* The latter 
had the letters emblazoned on his shield in gold. 

Another "protective letter", which a housewife in Hamburg circulated 
and also gave to an Italian citizen when he left the country, differs 
very little from the so-called Letter from Heaven* It begins with the 
following words : 


Holy Protective Letter * 

In the Name of God the Father and of the Son... Just as 
Christ stood still in the garden, so all guns shall be 
silent* Whoever carries this with him will not be harmed* 

The guns, swords and pistols of the enemy shall not strike 

him This letter was sent from heaven and was found in 

1724 in Holstein. It was written with golden letters and j 

hovered over the holy baptismal font.".*. j 


_= 4 ^ 

The letter ends with a row of capital letters in an arbitrary arrangement. 

Another "protective letter" , which is sent especially frequently to 
the front, begins in the following manner: 

The words in this verse will bring help when it is asked for: 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, 
Heavenly Father, I always carry Thee with me. 

According to Thy will, which is bound to my heart. 

Thou wilt also bring my enemies 
To me here in quietness! 

Protect and preserve me from harm, 

With Thy mighty mercy, • • tt 

The strikingly large circulation of the chain letters, according to 
the reports, can be ascribed to several motives. First, the centuries-old , 
deep-rooted superstition that special devices can be used to influence onei; 
own fate or the fate of relatives at the front, again and again leads the 
population to the use of these chain letters. At least it cannot do any 
harm to obey the admonition of the chain letters that they should be sent 
on. In by far the majority of the cases the letters were sent on by the 
recipients with a certain anxiety and fear that if they destroyed the 
document the misfortune threatened in the letter would strike them or 
their families. In many cases, however, the unquestioned reliability and 
power of these protective letters was believed in just as firmly as the 
power of certain holy objects, rosaries, medallions, crosses, etc,, are 
believed in by Catholic circles. One report states: 

Since allegedly so many of the statements in these letters 
have been fulfilled, believing citizens are influenced by them 
to such a degree that, for example, the date predicted for the 
end of the war in these letters (three years and five months) 
has already achieved the status of a fixed idea. (Bayreuth) 

Also in Protestant circles people have become thoroughly convinced 
of the effectiveness of these protective letters and they are often sent 
to the soldiers at the front as a talisman. One report states: 

According t© the belief of the woman who was questioned - 
a member of the Evangelical Church - the letter must at all 
times be carried by the soldier in his breast pocket, and 
| above all, the soldier must believe in it. Then this letter 

| would bring the help that was asked for, or would keep the 

| soldier from ham. A soldier on leave, who carried the 

letter, confirmed this report, and alleged that without the 
| letter he never would have come safely out of battle. A 

| comrade, who also carried the letter but apparently didn*t 

; believe in it, had fallen. (Chemnitz) 


As typieal of the point of view of the rural population toward the 
3 hain letters, a report states: 

Questioning of a whole series of chain letter writers - 
only females from peasant circles were concerned - showed 
that the population was seized as if by a psychosis. One 
woman brought the chain letter to the others with the 
urgent admonition that they should copy it three or four 
times as soon as possible and send it on to acquaintances. 

Even ch ild ren are sent from farm to farm in order to deliver 
these letters. The women all maintained that they had not 
dared to destroy the chain letter or to refrain from passing 
it on, since they feared that otherwise they would be visited 
by a major tragedy. It appears that thi3 undesirable be- 
havior cannot be checked without strong threats of punish- 
ment • ( Innsbruck) 

It is clear that worry about relatives at the front plays a large 
role in the present wide circulation of these letters: 

One can conclude from the available reports that the chain 
letter writers are motivated primarily by fear of further 
bloody battles. People want to do everything they can for 
the soldiers. For this reason, even chain letters are 
written for them, with belief in their miraculous quality. 

The letters certainly do not contribute to improving war 
morale. It is, after all, the purpose of the '’Greeting 
from Lourdes” to seek an early armistice. (Bayreuth) 

The letters are written almost exclusively by women and 
they axe sent on largely to women who have relatives in 
the array or at the front. In order to obtain these 
protective letters and to send them on to soldiers at the 
front, service wives are often even sought out in their 
homes and requested to provide the desired document. 

(Graz, Oppeln, etc.) 

The clergy do not play a prominent part in spreading chain letters, 
but they indulgently overlook this ”pious and harmless superstition”. It 
rarely happens that the clergy, to whom the chain letter nuisance cannot 
be unknown, take a stand themselves against this pernicious behavior. For 
instance, the following information comes from Linz: 

= 6 - 

In the course of the month of April, 1942, a single office was able to 
seize from 20 to 30 chain letters almost daily. Since it was necessary 
(to assume that the number of letters in circulation must have been several 
[times this number, the appropriate church authorities were asked to take 
measures against the circulation of chain letters* Only after this demand 
[the Bishop's office in Linz sent the following instruction to the lower 
clergy of the diocese: 

"The chain letter nuisance has assumed such proportions during tfcje 
past weeks that there is cause to make a general appeal to 
counteract it. In cases where the Pastor ha® not already done 
so on his own responsibility in the recent past, the next 
opportunity should be taken in a sermon or in an announcement 
from the pulpit to state expressly that these ohain letters 
represent gross superstition, which no real Catholic can take 
part in or promote* The Faithful are to be exhorted to destroy 
such chain letters in the event that they come into their hands ^ 
and in any ease not to circulate them further* For your 
information it is added that the secret police have brought 
this nuisanee to our attention and have asked that we take 
measures from this quarter to help suppress it* 

Not only in the Alp and Danube districts, but also in all parts; of 
the Reich, even in the territories which have been newly won or retaken, 
there are complaints about a steadily increasing flood of chain letters* 

The chain letter "Greeting from Lourdes” is circulating to a 
continually increasing extent. In Hausach/Kinzigtal alone 20 
copies of it could be seized in a single day. The letters 
are circulated by the entire Catholic population. Through 
letters which were apprehended in the LSrraoh Kreis it was 
possible to ascertain that the Catholic priest in Haslach/ 
Kinzigtal had also circulated the letters* In spite of all 
measures the constantly increasing flood of the chain letters 
cannot be stopped* (e.g* Karlsruhe) 

In Oberkrain the letter from Lourdes is circulating not only 
in German, but also in Slovene. 

In the past two months the circulation of thi3 chain letter 
(Greeting from Lourdes) has grown to a veritable flood in the 
whole district. In nearly all towns, but especially in the 
country, this document - in which as is well known the wish 
for an early armistice is expressed - is continually being 
copied and sent on. The Reiehspost has constantly seized and 
turned over to the police whole sheafs of letters which from 
their outer appearance alone can be identified as chain letters. 

It should be noted in thi3 connection that only a very small 
percentage of the letters ever come to the attention of the 
authorities at all* (Innsbruck) 

1'rcffli Vienna, Dortumund and Difsseldorf it is reported almost uniformly: 

Various observations lead one to the conclusion that the chain 
letters are being circulated by the same people who recently 
circulated the Galen sermon and the other pastoral letters. 

The purpose may b© on the one hand to preserve the belief of 
the people in their church through this superstitious nonsense, 
and on the other to encourage the desire for peace in order that 
the morale of these unreflective and primitive sectors of the 
population may be weakened, 

.ocal attempts to suppress the chain letter nuisance have been unavailing u 
;o the present time. For example, it has been reported from Graz: 

The well-known chain letters continue to b© circulated, in 
spite of the fact that the local press has already denounced 
this malpractice which overburdens the post office in an 
irresponsible manner. 

Party circles have therefore proposed that, just as in 1940, the press 
radio and film be employed again to check this constantly increasing 
nuisance by pointing out the nonsensical nature of such activity. 



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